For decades, Pennsylvania fostered cruelty toward animals through scant oversight of "puppy mills," notorious industrial scale dog-breeding operations. The state long had the dubious distinction of being the East Coast's leading puppy mill producer.


Over the last 15 years, the state government has toughened the law and improved regulation, but progress has been uneven.


Recently, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a performance audit of dog law enforcement, which found that the law is better on paper than in practice.


The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement had improved operational problems that were revealed in a 2013 audit, the report found. But since 2014, it added, the Legislature has cut the bureau's funding by 18%, reducing the number of wardens from 53 to 41. The dog law requires that they inspect each of more than 2,600 kennels statewide, twice every year.


Dog license fees and fines are supposed to fund the enforcement office, but more than $4.4 million of that revenue has been diverted to the Administration Office of Pennsylvania Courts to help fund its computer system. So, about $200,000 a year goes to the court system and $69,000 goes to dog law enforcement.


Another issue is the license fee itself, which has not changed since 1996, even though state personnel costs over those 24 years have risen by 112%. It is $8.50 per dog, or $6.50 if the dog is spayed or neutered.


Bills have been introduced in both houses to increase the license fee to $10 per year or $49 for life, with discounts for older Pennsylvanians.


Another bill, to stop diverting fine revenue from the enforcement bureau, unanimously passed the House in January.


Many lawmakers quite rightly say that they are proud of the steps they have taken against animal cruelty, but those steps are diminished with fully funded enforcement. The Legislature should ensure that enforcement is fully funded.


The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.